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Caris LeVert is proving why he’s a Brooklyn cornerstone

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s a reason why Caris LeVert is the first name that pops up in conversation when opposing GMs call Nets brass.

The second-year player out of Michigan is proving he can play —and play big— in this league, less than two years after Sean Marks shocked the league and traded Thaddeus Young to get LeVert with the 20th pick in the 2016 Draft. LeVert was projected in the mid 30’s, even 40’s, in virtually every mock draft leading up to that day.

Although his potential was hardly questioned, his three major foot surgeries were. He even penned an open letter to GMs on Players Tribune, saying he’s fine and promised to reward the team that took him.

Indeed, he has. Since rehabbing and getting time under Brooklyn’s coaching and performance staffs, LeVert has become one of the more promising players from the 2016 draft. For Brooklyn, he’s become the poster boy for development ... and a leader on the court since he earned the nod as backup point guard.

After all, maturity was something that attracted Sean Marks and the Nets brain trust when they took him at no. 20.

“I feel like a [leader] is somebody that others can look to and not necessarily have all the right answers, but try to do things the right way,” the 23-year-old LeVert told NetsDaily. “They don’t have to necessarily be vocal or demonstrative, but just somebody who exemplifies good behavior and somebody who does things that you want to do.”

It showed with his play in December (15 games), where he averaged 14.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals in 28 minutes per game. He’s scored double figures in nine consecutive games and has dished out seven or more assists in four straight. He shot nearly 50 percent from deep, which had been seen as a weakness.

Most recently, he put home the go-ahead bucket with 1:03 left in the Magic game, capping off a fourth straight night with 15+ points, 5+ rebounds and 5+ assists off the bench. He’s the first player to do so in the past 35 years of Nets history.

Those close to the Nets are not surprised at all. The way Brooklyn’s coaching staff sees it – the development process is a long-term thing. They took over in May 2016, so they see the process currently as a “20-month continuing process” for themselves and the players.

One team insider told NetsDaily that, along with Spencer Dinwiddie, LeVert had taken the biggest leap in terms of improvement this past summer. Kenny Atkinson and several other coaches have noted several times how they couldn’t get him out of the gym.

It’s a credit to him as much as it is to them, and Caris knows it.

“When somebody trusts you the way our coaches trust us, then you have the ultimate confidence,” said LeVert in the same interview. “When they’re giving you the green light and basically telling you ‘play your game and trust your instincts’ as a player that’s what you want to hear.”

And so, that’s where we stand right now. The Nets lost Jeremy Lin for the season and D’Angelo Russell for an extended period of time. LeVert knew it was his time to step up.

“Last year is a different story than this year,” LeVert told NetsDaily earlier in the season after Lin got injured. “Like you said, we have a couple of more guys this year. I mean it sucks losing a guy with that much talent, that much leadership, that much experience. But like I said it’s next man up.”

That same theme applied when Russell went down in mid-November, only Atkinson was forced to put the 6’7” lanky-framed and athletic LeVert at point. it didn’t take him long to adjust to the pressures at the 1.

He’d played a bit at PG in college at Michigan and the Nets talked on Draft Night about his ability to play the 1, 2 or 3.

Still, Nets fans were surprised at his transition ... and a seemingly natural ability to come in and change games has helped Brooklyn weather the storm.

“He was huge. And not just end of the game, I thought just the whole game. He’s been coming in with that second unit and he’s really been our spark right now and doing a great job,” said Atkinson after Monday’s win over the Magic.

Another lure for the Nets has been his clear athleticism and naturally gifted length. He’s 6’7” with a 7’0” wingspan. He can handle the rock, get in the paint, create passing lanes, and as of late – hit the 3-point ball consistently.

Defensively, he adds a different dynamic to Brooklyn’s D by covering the ball handler. He’s usually covering the point guard at the top of the key, which enables him to get his hands in the passing lanes, deflect the ball and push it up the floor.

We’ve learned a ton about him and who fits well with him. The second first-round pick in the Marks-era, Jarrett Allen, has become a much better player with LeVert on the floor.

The two have developed quite a chemistry in the pick-and-roll, as their length continues to give teams a problem. LeVert 7’0” wingspan combined Allen’s 7’6” has given Brooklyn a paint presence while teams shift their focus out to the perimeter.

“I don’t know where it came from, but it’s just been there since we started playing together. It’s worked, so if it’s not broke don’t fix it,” said Allen after he posted a career-high 16 points in Brooklyn’s win over Orlando.

The two have proven to be system fits together. Furthermore, the two fit high character profile that Brooklyn cherishes. It gives hope – and reason – to believe in Marks’ eye for talent in drafts.

So far, it looks like it’s working for Caris LeVert. He’s played promising basketball since his role was increased and somewhat tweaked. Perhaps, it’s a similar case with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who has thrived since Atkinson let HIM develop at the 4.

For LeVert, it appears the point guard spot is where he belongs. He may not look like a traditional point guard, but that’s what makes it work. He’s a prototypical player in the modern age of basketball: Try teaching length. It’s impossible.